Last year, I was pleasantly surprised when Xseed decided to randomly and somewhat arbitrarily port Ys Seven to the PSP. While the franchise has been beloved in the East for two decades, there isn't a huge Western following, but the appearance of this wildly fun and entertaining title got many folks excited about the franchise. The enthusiasm continued when we saw Ys: The Oath in Felghana, which was a remake of Ys Three. Finally, Xseed's backward-trilogy of releases is complete with a remastered edition of Ys I & II. Unfortunately, trotting out these early series editions with their archaic combat and awful progression has done more harm than good. In a franchise that has come to be regarded as quite good, these games are just plain bad.
Ys I & II Chronicles tell the two halves of the original Ys story line. In this case, series protagonist Adol Christin is setting out on his first adventures, and we've yet to even meet his stalwart pal Dogi (don't worry fans, the big lug does eventually make an appearance). Adol manages to wash ashore on an island nation which has been cut off from the outside world by virtue of never-ending storms which shipwreck any who attempt to come or go from the island. The inhabitants believe that there are foul deeds afoot, and implore Adol to find the six Books of Ys which supposedly predict just such a disaster and tell of a hero destined to save them all.
The first two Ys games have actually been remade and ported several times over, finding their way to nearly every gaming console and PC known to man. The PSP remakes are based on other remakes, and players even have the option of playing the 2001 or 2009 version of these 20-year-old games. Thankfully, along the way, the PSP edition got some bright and colorful new sprites, as well as a totally new soundtrack. The music of the game is honestly its crowning achievement, as the terrific instrumentals do a great job of setting the mood. The collection even comes with an accompanying CD of music from the games; it may be more enjoyable than the games themselves.
The reason for this lack of enjoyment stems largely from the fact that even though the games have been remade dozens of times, no one has bothered to do anything to update the two-decades-old game mechanics. "Combat" is a relative term in these titles, as you don't fight enemies so much as you run into them repeatedly until they eventually expire. The rules state that running into enemies head-on results in both you and them taking damage, while hitting them from angles will protect you from pain while still damaging them. In theory, this should lead to thoughtful fighting where positioning is key, but due to the speed of both Adol and his foes, it really translates into running straight at a bunch of baddies, bouncing off them and repeating until they're dead.
Making things worse is the fact that you can only carry one healing item at a time, so there's little incentive to attempt to steamroll through enemies. Adol will regenerate health, but he only does so while standing totally still outside of a dungeon (until he finds an item that lets him heal inside), and during boss fights, all your items are disabled so you truly have to fight alone. In this way, bosses are especially frustrating, as you're fighting without a safety net and hoping to come out on top. Considering the insane difficulty of some fights and downright cheap boss tactics, some battles become downright maddening. Those who don't enjoy a thorough butt-kicking may not ever bother finishing either game.
Adding to the frustration is the fact that critical items and equipment are absurdly hard to find, and tracking down the next objective is sometimes more a matter of luck than skill. The developers call the original Ys "wonderfully obtuse" in the manual and even go so far as to provide a miniwalkthrough, but that is cold comfort when you're lost in the middle of a dungeon with no idea where to go next. Considering what sort of design was common for RPGs 20 years ago, it's a bit surprising the genre ever managed to catch on.
All these elements make Ys I & II Chronicles immensely frustrating at times for all but the most devoted gamer. While it's always nice to know the roots of modern games, often the past is best left undisturbed, lest we remember that many old games don't stack up in the eyes of today's players. If nothing else, at least we now know why the mechanics that comprised the early titles on this franchise were dropped all those years ago: They don't make for very good games. A fresh coat of paint and an awesome soundtrack aren't enough to cover the fact that Ys I & II are more work than fun, and that is not a winning recipe.
By holding back Ys I & II Chronicles from release until now, Xseed has caused the series to go out with a whimper, leaving Western gamers getting their first shot at Ys with a sour taste in their mouths. While the last couple of releases in the franchise were a welcome change of pace from modern RPGs, Ys I & II Chronicles is old-school to a fault and will likely hold little appeal for today's gamer. Maybe Adol and friends should have quit while they were ahead, as this game is only going to tarnish their legacy.
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